It’s one of the most ubiquitous sales programs in the banking industry and should be one of the most productive: the cross-silo referral program. So why does it often fail? After all, customers welcome an apt referral because it means getting needed help from a place they trust.
The bank welcomes a good referral because it deepens the customer’s loyalty. The two bankers involved at either end develop a relationship and move from referring to the anonymous “business bank” to their colleague. And cross-silo represents an inexpensive way to improve the bank’s sales focus via a relationship strategy.
But what if your referral program isn’t delivering hoped-for results? Ask yourself one or more of the following five questions:
1. Is your program more about sales than helping customers?
Which gets priority and airtime: deal size and sales results, or customer stories and “the why” for making referrals? When the program focuses on “the why” for referrals, colleagues can’t wait to tell stories about customers they’ve helped—and colleagues who helped make it happen.
When it’s not working, they talk about products sold, fees and balances, often with little enthusiasm. Leaders of effective referral programs know that focusing on customers and their needs means sales results will follow.
And when those customer stories emerge? Collect them, publicize them and praise the storytellers.
2. Has your referral program earned informed, committed executive support?
Every initiative in a bank clamors for executive support. Thus it’s crucial to feed your executive well with results, stories and details about upcoming events. Executives don’t like to be stuck with nothing but perfunctory platitudes to utter. They don’t want to repeat last month’s pep talk. Give them plenty of fresh information each time you solicit their support:
Executives like to execute and make things happen. If a top leader goes to Phoenix, tell her which district manager outperforms and why, along with which team is not following up on referrals and how she can help.
When problems arise, be transparent. If you hear bankers say they don’t want to make referrals to “that team,” it could point to a more serious issue. You don’t want these problems to plant doubts about the program, or support will wane and eventually vanish.
Send executives the latest information just before they make a market presentation, along with the names (and pictures) of top performers they can recognize.
3. Have you structured your teams, rules and scoring correctly?
Create a cooperative environment where colleagues benefit mutually by solving customers’ needs. Pitting business lines against one another does the opposite: It creates competition that loses the customer in the fray. Instead encourage healthy, fun competition between geographical local markets, while the business lines in each area learn to work together in the customer’s best interests. You’ll be surprised who steps up to lead these teams.
Team sizes will never be the same across different markets. Just commit to figuring out how to keep score as you go, taking time to define a quality referral and a closed sale. You don’t want your program to create time-consuming activity that serves no customer need, or leads to colleagues gaming the system to get a tick mark.
Take time to think through your rules, articulate them and gather feedback from a representative group of colleagues who will operate within them. But don’t worry if it takes a while to iron out details as you audit individual referrals monthly. Get comfortable with continual process review.
4. Does everybody involved get the reports they need?
For referral programs, reporting amounts to oxygen. Executives want the big picture: to see how markets perform and which teams aren’t playing. Middle managers need information to coach their teams on sending referrals and follow up. (And as mentioned, they also need the names of top performers to personally recognize and stories about serving the customer.)
Line bankers need to know whether their referrals have been received and if their colleagues are following up or closing. Make all reports transparent and discuss results frequently.
5. Have you built a knowledge repository that all bankers and managers can access?
Start small—but build fast. Don’t delay your program to create a perfect repository. Start with the team structure, how you keep score, reports, and add rules and incentives as you go. Incorporate team contacts, training, sample probing questions, sample language, success practices, and customer stories.
Invite everyone to contribute. Keep the competition fresh and lively by adding solid ideas and resources as they arise, and give good visibility to top performance.
Putting it all together: Communicate, recognize, repeat.
Share results weekly via email; monthly is not enough. Single out top performers on national calls. You will learn a lot about your leaders: who steps up and supports their partners and who does not. Spend time on recognition instead of money on expensive prizes. In time, your team will learn and embrace this truth: It really is about serving customers.
Your results may not be great at first, but don’t let early results discourage colleagues and doom the program. People aren’t just learning new processes—they’re learning new skills, which takes time and means occasional failure. Give plenty of credit for early efforts.
Mainly, start (or restart) your journey. Your customers need you. Your employees will enjoy making new work friends. Launch with a simple campaign and small prizes, and learn as you go until you reach the big prize all can share: a successful cross-silo referral program.
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Mark Renfro is a founder and managing partner of Waypoint Consulting Services, the Dallas-based firm active in the financial services, healthcare, and energy sectors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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